“What are you sneezing for?”
Cyril sniffed but his nose was too stuffed up for it to do any good.
“I’m sick,” he said, wiping his nose on his sleeve. “Can’t you tell?”
“No, don’t do that.” Innu grabbed his arm but it was too late. “Now you have sick all over your arm and you’ll spread it around the camp.”
“It’s not sick, it’s snot,” corrected Cyril, “Sick is vomit.”
“’Sick’ is anything that comes out of a person with a bodily disease.”
“Psh. Disease. You make it sound chronic. It’s just a stoned cold.”
“Well, you’re dripping out your face, aren’t you? We’d better stop, then. Find you lots of clean water. I’ll make you some delicious dandelion soup—“
“Dandelion soup?” Cyril whined.
“Shh, it’s good for you,” Innu continued. “I’ll make a fire and you cuddle up with as many blankets as you can handle and go to sleep right away.”
Cyril’s throat felt salty. He didn’t want to sleep out in the elements anymore, especially not now. He was cold, his head hurt, his skin was annoyingly tender, and his stomach…there’s no way he’d be able to eat Innu’s dandelion soup.
“Do have any medicine?” asked Cyril.
“What do you think dandelion soup is?”
“I mean real medicine.” Innu didn’t answer. Cyril grimaced and swallowed. “I want to go into town.”
“Over a bit of sick? Out of the question. We’ve only been out here a couple of days.”
Cyril pressed the back of his hand to his forehead. “I think I have a fever.”
Innu sighed and crouched to his level. “Nonsense. You’re just not used to so much fresh air.” He pressed his own hand to Cyril’s forehead. “Yikes, wow, you might be right.”
“I demand you take me to the nearest town for medicine, as the prince of the Montomogen Moors.”
“Oh, we’re throwing our weight around, are we?” Innu stood up and crossed his arms. “Well, if that’s the case, I declare we will not go into any towns, as a necromancer, as your apprentice, and your senior, age wise. I’m like ten years older than you, at least.”
Cyril hunched over and retched onto the ground. Innu jumped clear and grabbed fistfuls of his robes to make sure they weren’t in the line of fire.
When he was done, Cyril wiped his mouth on his sleeve. Innu gagged just watching him.
“I got it on my shirt,” Cyril said in a shaking voice. “My pants, too.”
“You sure did,” said Innu, still holding the hem of his robe off the ground. “I’ve given it some thought, and I think we should stop by town and get you some medicine.”
The nearest town was an hour’s walk east, at least that’s what Innu had said. Granted, Cyril was in a sick haze, trailing behind Innu wrapped head to toe in a thick, wool blanket, but he still thought he would have seen the city by now. The land here was flat and the ground was made up of six-foot-wide stones so pentagonal that Cyril couldn’t believe they weren’t manmade.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the ground up ahead looked like it dropped off. The wind whipped around them, turning Innu’s hair into a cyclone and trying to take Cyril’s blanket.
Cyril gripped the wool tighter.
“I think the ground ends!” he yelled into the wind.
Innu responded but he didn’t turn around, so it was lost to the wind.
“You said it was a big city, right?”
Innu looked back. “The biggest!”
“It’s a hanging city!”
Cyril could never tell whether Innu was being serious or not. Whenever he opened his mouth, he said something strange: sometimes they were jokes, sometimes they weren’t, and there was no way to tell which was which because they were equally insane.
What the gods was a hanging city? Did it hang from somewhere like a giant birdhouse? There wouldn’t be a tree large enough, and especially not out here in this flat, rocky wilderness. Did it have something to do with executions? No, that wouldn’t explain why they couldn’t see it.
“Ah,” Innu said, crouching over what looked like a pile of rocks. He motioned for Cyril. “Hurry up, little apprentice! The entrance is here!”
Was “the hanging city” seriously underground, or was this another one of Innu’s ill-mannered jokes? Cyril was too sick to care so he wrapped the blanket tight around his head and shuffled towards his master.
As he approached, he saw that the mound of rocks he saw was actually a set of stone stairs spiraling down into the ground. Above the entrance was a bronze plaque that read “Plethal.”
Innu stood out of the way. “You go first, Cyril,” he said. “That way if you fall, I can grab you.”
Cyril nodded and started down the steps, carefully running his hand along the walls so he wouldn’t slip on the mossy steps. He couldn’t imagine there could be much of a town underground, but if they had medicine and possibly some hot, hearty, meat-based, carrot-free food, he would be happy.
Cyril grumpily pulled the blanket tighter around his shoulders. A cave would be dark, damp, and cold: three things Cyril had gotten tired of and had hoped, in his naïve little heart, to have a short respite from while in a town. But no. Alas, this only convinced Cyril that he should give up any hope of ever being dry and warm again.
At the bottom of the slippery stairs was a door, wooden and slick from never properly drying out.
Cyril sighed. “I don’t appreciate being taken for a fool, Innu, I really don’t.”
“Aw, shush now,” said Innu pushing the door open. “You’ll have your stew and medicine soon enough.”
“I just think, what kind of city lies behind a door?” Cyril asked as Innu lead him through the doorway. “I mean—“
He shielded his eyes from the sudden light. Once his sight adjusted, he saw that Innu hadn’t been tricking him. There was a city down here and it was the most breathtaking city Cyril had ever seen.
Where they stood was a walkway that was walled off from the sheer drop to the sea below. Above was a carved rock ceiling that bulged above them. Stone stairs spiraled all around to buildings that had been carved out of the Cliffside and there were more people walking about than lived in the entire Montomogen Moors central.
Innu noticed Cyril gawking. He laughed. “My friend, welcome to Plethal. Now, let’s get you fixed up so we can leave.”
Plethal was a masterpiece of endless spirals. The walkways were surprisingly dry for a city built in the side of a sea cliff. It must have been because the walkway was so high up. Leaning over the wall, Cyril tried to count the concave levels of the town but he failed. There had to be at least forty.
The city sloped away. The sounds of laughter, bartering and conversation blew upwards like a breeze across Cyril’s face.
“Is there a festival today or something?” asked Cyril. After all, there couldn’t possibly be this many people out and about on a normal day.
“No, no, nothing special like that, though they do love a good festival. It’s just crowded. It’s the biggest city and some would call it the best city on the whole island. A modern marvel of ingenuity and diplomacy.”
Cyril coughed. “Why do I get the feeling you don’t include yourself in that statement?”
“Because I don’t.”
“Why not? It seems marvelous.”
“It’s marvelous alright, but it also has some of the worst spirit slaving I’ve ever seen. Every old lady and school boy has some manner of spirit in their possession, necromancers and not. They sell them like snacks or toys or something. You’ll see. Also, Plethal’s too loud for me.”
“Well, I find it pleasant.” Cyril coughed again and stumbled.
Innu held him steady and sighed. “Well, let’s find you some medicine. And a bed and dinner, probably. Can’t have you stumbling about the countryside. Spraying your sick everywhere.”
Bed had become Cyril’s favorite word. Not “sleep,” not “rest,” not “camp,” but “bed.” He felt like he hadn’t slept in a real bed for years.
A/N: No one ever wants Innu’s dandelion stew. Not Cyril, not Calvean, not Garnet. But his mother swore by its healing properties and Innu uses it as the remedy for everything from exhaustion to the flu. It’s usually quite effective, but there’s nothing you can do to mask that potent dandelion flavor.
I’m playing with different names for Necromantic. The one I like the best so far is “Cyril and the Ghost Hoarder.” I’m trying to think of a derogatory name the people in Cyril’s town call Innu, based on what little they understand of him: he’s a traveling necromancer and it’s rumored that he’s just a husk full of demons. Ghost Hoarder seems a bit tame. I don’t know. I’ll keep working on it.
Also, I’ve got some exciting news! I’ve been accepted into an MFA writing program (concentration in fiction) in San Francisco this fall. I’m super excited. A little nervous since I’ve been out of school for a year, but mostly excited!